At 49ers 19, Seahawks 17
The 49ers scored one touchdown in two games this season against the Seahawks, but the division rivals finished 1-1 in 2013 because the Seahawks self-destructed Sunday at Candlestick Park — nine penalties and a blocked punt. The mistakes butchered a winnable game on the road against a rival desperate for a win.
In the rivalry chronicles, Frank Gore’s 51-yard run late in the fourth quarter will be long remembered as decisive. But a third-quarter Seattle penalty and the second-quarter blocked punt made the late defensive lapse on Gore unsurvivable.
RB Marshawn Lynch had a long midfield run for a first down nullified when FB Michael Robinson, blocking, was called for a face-mask penalty. Robinson did not pull or grab, but apparently the leaving of fingerprints was enough for the forensics team. A promising drive ended in a punt, just as Seattle had built momentum in the first half with touchdown drives of 72 and 80 yards.
With 4:21 left in the second quarter, the 49ers kicked a field goal after a 10-yard drive following a blocked punt. A Seahawks lineman whiffed on his block on a punt attempt by Jon Ryan. Only a stout defensive stand kept the error from turning into six instead of three.
Besides ending a seven-game winning streak and thwarting the Seahawks’ earliest opportunity to clinch the NFC West title and homefield advantage for the playoffs, the defeat gave the 49ers belief that the are not over-matched against Seattle, as the 71-16 point differential of the past two games indicated.
Both games were at the Clink, where any playoff meeting is likeliest to occur. But even homefield advantage will not help if the Seahawks give back 85 yards in penalties while gaining only 264 going forward.
FISTS TO SKY
- The Seahawks defense gave up only a single touchdown and a modest 318 yards on the road, 51 on the single play to Gore.
- San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick was held to 15-of-29 passing and 175 yards. On the 49ers’ game-winning field goal drive, he completed only one short pass. It was clear that Kaepernick is not trusted to avoid mistakes by coach Jim Harbaugh nearly as much as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll trusts Russell Wilson.
- On rookie TE Luke Willson’s 39-yard touchdown pass, he showed impressive hands and speed. He continues to add security for Carroll’s favored two tight-end sets.
- Wilson was sacked only twice, although the first one in the first quarter by LB NaVarro Bowman may have been the hardest hit he’s taken this season.
PALMS TO FOREHEAD
- Injury news was significant. LB K.J. Wright went out in the second quarter with a broken bone in his foot and will be lost for six weeks. C Max Unger strained a left pectoral muscle in the third quarter, did not return. His status is unknown. Backup SS Jeron Johnson pulled a hamstring in the third quarter and did not return. He missed game time earlier in the season with a hamstring injury to the other leg.
- The Seahawks managed only 86 yards rushing on 23 attempts against San Francisco’s stout front seven, the longest Lynch’s 11-yard touchdown run. That is not likely to improve with Unger’s backup, Lem Jeanpierre, as a starter.
- Golden Tate’s 38-yard punt return in the fourth quarter set up Seattle at the San Francisco 27, but the Seahawks managed only one first down and 14 yards before settling for a field goal that provided a shaky 17-16 lead. From a first down at the 15, Lynch was shut down twice, and Wilson missed on a pass with Jermaine Kearse. On the next possession, the Niners scored the game winner.
- Penalties, penalties, penalties.
On the defeat: “This was a game where a single play could make a difference. They figured out a way to get a win. The important thing for us is we have a lot of football left, regardless of today. I was most disappointed that we had a lot of critical penalties that dictated the flow. (Officials) called them on us and on them. I just wish it wasn’t part of this game . . . This was really marred by penalties. We couldn’t get out of our own way, on both sides of ball.”
On the 49ers’ play: “It was kind of a regular game for them. They didn’t throw a lot and ran the ball well. It was kind of a slugfest.”
On the blocked punt: “We just missed a block. We didn’t do it right. It never happens to us like that. They did it well.”
On the decisive fourth-quarter run by SF Frank Gore: “They blocked us really nicely. We’d stopped the play a few times earlier in the game. That time it got away. They came up with good stuff at times, and we adjusted. The defense we were in, they took advantage.”
On the rivalry: “You guys keep asking us, but we just don’t think of things that way. It’s a great division matchup. I love it that they are a great football team. They’ve helped us get better because they’re good.”
Losing the field-position battle: “Field position was in their favor most of the game. We didn’t change the field position like we usually do with the punt game. We couldn’t get that switched. In a close game, that could have been the difference . . . The game came to us when Golden rips (the 38 yard punt return) down there. The field goal put us ahead. But we them get out with the big (Gore) run. It came down to a one-play deal.”
As a San Francisco native, on his final game at Candlestick Park : “I spent my youth here as a Giants fan and a Niners fan. It’s a big deal to me. It shaped my life. Willie Mays meant everything to me. It was a privilege that I had a chance to come here and coach.”
Looking ahead to the Giants game Sunday: “Judging from the (East Coast) weather, it could be an unusual matchup. I didn’t feel like the season ended today one way or another.”
On the defeat: “Maybe it’s good for us. We can refocus . . . We moved the ball really well in second quarter, but the game came down to penalties — on offense and defense.. We’re still in great position, but the loss really hurts. . . . You don’t win ’em all. The key is to win the last one.”
On the close nature of the game throughout: “I thought we did a good job. We just needed to make one or two more plays. On that last drive, I thought we could have scored in the red zone.”
Other than injuries, the loss did little harm to the Seahawks’ playoff prospects. But it did show again something seen against the Saints — a difficulty in establishing the run. The long gain was 11 yards. The reduced effectiveness was also due to the 49ers’ excellent front seven. The absence in the fourth quarter of C Max Unger was a difference-maker.
Defense kept the Seahawks close, particularly in bothering SF QB Colin Kaepernick. But the lack of explosive plays, a growing habit stilled Sunday, closed down the contest to a one-game play, and the Niners made it with two — Gore and the blocked punt.
The Niners made fewer mistakes in a game they had to have. And once the 49ers front office provided a script for fans on what to wear and how to (mis)behave, the Niners turned it into their fifth win in a row over Seattle at the ‘Stick. Then they move out in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks are left to consider they have lost games by two points and six points, both on the road. The time for heavy sighs and weeping is not upon them.